My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

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My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Fri Feb 10, 2017 1:27 pm

Back in 2000, when I purchased my first pinball which was a Stern "Meteor", I noticed two things right away. One was that the playfield said "Designed by Steve Kirk", and the second was a little sticker on the front apron saying "Selected for Tournament Play by P.A.A.". I quickly realized that the two were related, and that it was quite unusual back in 1979 when Meteor came out for a game designer to get formal credit in the artwork (though many designers and artists had cleverly snuck in hidden references to themselves, generally just initials). My curiosity about Steve Kirk was further aroused by the discovery that one of the games I was looking for (based purely on having heard about how great it was!), Nineball, was also designed by Steve Kirk, and when I finally acquired one it also had the "Selected for Tournament Play" sticker.

It turns out that Steve Kirk had more-or-less forced Stern to give him explicit design credit of his games (something no other designer at that time was accorded), and also to advertise the Pinball Association of America (founder and President, Steve Kirk!) via the stickers.

This caused me to do a bit of research, and track down all the games that Steve Kirk designed (mostly with Stern, but later with Bally/Midway and Williams). I noticed that almost all his games had a little easter-egg on the backglass in the form of his initials and a number (e.g. on Meteor, one of the rockets has SK-5 written on it), implying that these were the numbers of the games he'd designed, in order.

For reference, these games are:
    SK-1: Stars (on the wing of the star-ship)
    SK-3: Nineball (on the wizard's hat)
    SK-5: Meteor (on the side of one of the rockets heading towards the meteor)
    SK-9: Gamatron, a Flight2000 narrow-body conversion kit (on the side of one of the defence-bunker rockets)
    SK-13: Ramp Warrior prototype (on the license-plate of the truck)
    SK-13: Truck Stop, the production version of Ramp Warrior (now the license plate from the truck on Ramp Warrior is lying on the ground, all crumpled up!)
I've never been able to track down what the other "SK" games were, though he did get designer credit on a number of other games (including purportedly some Gottlieb EMs from the late 60's, but that seems very early for him to have been actually designing games).

Here are two interesting interviews with Steve Kirk from 1978 and 1985 in Playmeter (an industry magazine): http://www.backglass.org/stern/steve_kirk_playmeter_4.pdf

I would like to track down PDF copies of the following two issues of PinGame Journal which had articles on Steve Kirk after his death in 2006:
    Issue 119 - December, 2006: Gary Flower remembering pinball designer Steve Kirk who died earlier this year.
    Issue 120 - March, 2007: Matt Cianchetti presents an interesting picture of his friend, the late Steve Kirk, explaining Steve's passion for pinball.
If anyone has physical access to these two issues, could they send me a scanned copy (just the indicated articles would be fine)?

There's more trivia about Steve Kirk I could share, so let me know if you're interested.
Last edited by DrDude on Fri Feb 10, 2017 4:44 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Steve Kirk

Postby OTTOgd » Fri Feb 10, 2017 1:45 pm

Very interesting, thanks!

... and I was THIS CLOSE to getting a Swords of Fury. :(

http://www.ipdb.org/search.pl?searchtyp ... eve%20Kirk

... but my obsession is with John Trudeau. :oops:
Last edited by OTTOgd on Fri Feb 10, 2017 1:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: My Obsession with Steve Kirk

Postby DrSmooth » Fri Feb 10, 2017 1:46 pm

Good job!
Please continue.
I wondered why pinball companies displayed many of the designers involved in their systems. It certainly makes pinball history more interesting as well as being able to follow your favorite designers, for us hobbyists and manufacturers. Maybe that's why Nintendo and all those video games have game credits as well?
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Re: My Obsession with Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Fri Feb 10, 2017 2:01 pm

OTTOgd wrote:Very interesting, thanks!

... and I was THIS CLOSE to getting a Swords of Fury. :(

http://www.ipdb.org/search.pl?searchtyp ... eve%20Kirk

... but my obsession is with John Trudeau. :oops:


Steve Kirk supposedly worked on the following 4 Gottlieb games from 1968:
    Fun Park
    Fun Land
    Paul Bunyan
    Big Jack
Then, as you say, he designed Williams 1988 Swords of Fury. Finally, he contributed a single post and some palm trees to Premier's 1991 Surf'n'Safari (though not sure if that counts as "design"!)
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville


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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby Drano » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:28 pm

I was pretty surprised to learn he worked on SoF when I first got it. Although, the runes used on the playfield make his name a bit hard to read.

I love meteor and am expecting my Nine Ball to arrive any day. I guess I'm a bit of a Steve Kirk fan too ;)

It may have been odd for designers in that era to get formal credit, but for some reason, most sterns of this era did have a full signature on the playfield. Kirk, Mike Kubin and of course Harry Williams. Hey... maybe Kirk started the whole trend?

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Sat Feb 11, 2017 9:47 am

Drano wrote:It may have been odd for designers in that era to get formal credit, but for some reason, most sterns of this era did have a full signature on the playfield. Kirk, Mike Kubin and of course Harry Williams. Hey... maybe Kirk started the whole trend?


The first Mike Kubin SS game (and first Stern SS game in general) was "Pinball" from 1977 (love that backglass!) and the first Harry Williams was "Wildfyre" from 1978. Steve Kirk's "Stars" falls in the middle of those two titles. Would be interesting to see which of those games had designer signatures, but my impression is that the signatures only started after Steve Kirk established the precedent.
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Sat Feb 11, 2017 10:02 am

BTW, after reading the interviews I posted above, I just discovered that Steve Kirk actually co-wrote "All About Pinball", a book about (obviously) Pinball games, playing, and the evolution of Tournament play, back in 1978. It is (no surprise) out of print, but used copies can be found: http://www.alibris.com/All-about-pinball-Bobbye-Claire-Natkin/book/234641.

I already have a pretty large collection of Pinball books, but this one was new to me, so I have ordered a copy. Will be interesting to see what this book contains!
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Mon Feb 13, 2017 11:10 am

Drano wrote:I was pretty surprised to learn he worked on SoF when I first got it. Although, the runes used on the playfield make his name a bit hard to read.


Is there any sign of an "SK-?" on the backglass or playfield of SoF? I've never had the chance to inspect one closely, and can't find any high-resolution pictures to confirm this, so if you could take a look at your example of the game, I would appreciate it!
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby Drano » Mon Feb 13, 2017 2:40 pm

DrDude wrote:
Drano wrote:I was pretty surprised to learn he worked on SoF when I first got it. Although, the runes used on the playfield make his name a bit hard to read.


Is there any sign of an "SK-?" on the backglass or playfield of SoF? I've never had the chance to inspect one closely, and can't find any high-resolution pictures to confirm this, so if you could take a look at your example of the game, I would appreciate it!



Sure... but it'll have to wait a bit as the game is currently folded.
I do have an NOS playfield at home which I can inspect though.

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby chief brody » Wed Mar 15, 2017 2:33 pm

Hi Dr. Dude -

I found this thread through a search on Steve Kirk - I'm interested in him as well since my first (and so far only) machine is a Stern Stars. While mine doesn't have the PAA sticker, I have read that he viewed putting that sticker on machines as a way to encourage people to play it - after all, wouldn't you want to play a machine that was 'selected for tournament play'? I've read the two Playmeter interviews - some of Kirks views on the future of gaming on the last page of the interviews were prescient - he talked about in the future we would be playing on 'terminal...that terminal connects in with other terminals, be they across town, across the state, or across the nation. But the games are all tied in. And you can jump into the games as one of many people..." That's from an article in 1985 - he was ahead of his time.

If you find more info on him, I'd be grateful to hear about it. I've tried to find out more about him, but there doesn't seem to me much low hanging fruit.

I'm also interested in his book - although I haven't bought it yet.

cool subject, thanks for posting.

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Tue May 09, 2017 6:54 am

I had hoped to pick up PinGame Journal #119 and #120 at the Allentown Pinfest last weekend, but it turned out no one really had much in the way of Pinball Paper (just lots of flyers): Only saw one stack of 6 or so PinGame Journals. Turns out my good friend Tim Smith at the Pinball Parts Plus booth has a complete run of PinGame Journal, and he was kind enough to scan the appropriate pages. So here is a PDF of those (it turns out, short) articles for your enjoyment:
steve_kirk_pingame.pdf
(4.32 MiB) Downloaded 42 times
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Tue May 09, 2017 7:31 am

I think the saddest part of these PinGame articles (both of which are written by friends of Steve Kirk after his death) is this comment about his appearance at Pinball Expo '00 (or '01, the writer isn't sure):

"The minute we walked in, tons of people recognized him instantly and started catching up on old times. At one point, he was asked to sign at the autograph tables. So there he was, signing autographs of backglass artwork and talking to fans of his games and no one realized at the end of the show after he was done signing autographs, he would be going back to the shelter and trying to find a job the next day. Not many people who are homeless get to sign autographs or have fans tell them how much their work is enjoyed. Yet for that night, Steve got to experience both.."

RIP, Steve..
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby monty » Tue May 09, 2017 3:50 pm

wow was he ever down on his luck the last few years - what a terrible way to go out.

i have to say that i admire his 'keep it simple' philosophy on game design (mentioned in the memoirs piece on Page 2) - there is absolutely a place for deep Keith Johnson-esque rulesets in pinball, but my favourite pins are those that are simple to understand but difficult to master.

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby semicolin » Fri May 12, 2017 2:20 pm

I've just bought a Meteor with the goal of restoring it back to beautiful again.

I need a backglass and a playfield, just like it always is. I found out that CPR is seeing if there is any interest in a Meteor reproduction. It would be great if other owners, or people that love the art, would vote (no financial commitment) to show that there is interest in the project: http://www.classicplayfields.com/order.html
Sharing my space with: Stern Meteor, Gottlieb Tag Team, Interflip Dragon, Street Fighter cab w/Premium 8
Wanted: Widebody cocktail cabinet, ≥ 36", Bally Elektra, Williams Rollergames, Bally Centaur

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Fri May 12, 2017 3:18 pm

semicolin wrote:I've just bought a Meteor with the goal of restoring it back to beautiful again.

I need a backglass and a playfield, just like it always is. I found out that CPR is seeing if there is any interest in a Meteor reproduction. It would be great if other owners, or people that love the art, would vote (no financial commitment) to show that there is interest in the project: http://www.classicplayfields.com/order.html

For a repro Backglass, be aware that Meteor has mirror-art on it, so have to make sure that any repro is done with that in mind. Not every repro process can do mirror.
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby semicolin » Fri May 12, 2017 3:20 pm

DrDude wrote:
semicolin wrote:I've just bought a Meteor with the goal of restoring it back to beautiful again.

I need a backglass and a playfield, just like it always is. I found out that CPR is seeing if there is any interest in a Meteor reproduction. It would be great if other owners, or people that love the art, would vote (no financial commitment) to show that there is interest in the project: http://www.classicplayfields.com/order.html

For a repro Backglass, be aware that Meteor has mirror-art on it, so have to make sure that any repro is done with that in mind. Not every repro process can do mirror.


Oh, backglass I'm going to have to find an original in good shape. The repro is for the playfield!
Sharing my space with: Stern Meteor, Gottlieb Tag Team, Interflip Dragon, Street Fighter cab w/Premium 8
Wanted: Widebody cocktail cabinet, ≥ 36", Bally Elektra, Williams Rollergames, Bally Centaur

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby monty » Fri Aug 04, 2017 8:45 am

did Steve Kirk invent the use of a centre post?

recently saw this pic of a Kirk Post™ on a Pinstar Gamatron

Image

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby semicolin » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:16 am

ha! awesome.

That'd make an inappropriate tattoo.
Sharing my space with: Stern Meteor, Gottlieb Tag Team, Interflip Dragon, Street Fighter cab w/Premium 8
Wanted: Widebody cocktail cabinet, ≥ 36", Bally Elektra, Williams Rollergames, Bally Centaur

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby DrDude » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:43 am

"Kirk Post" Hah! I even owned a Gamatron, and I didn't notice that in the playfield artwork. That is such a hoot! Yes, Steve liked his outhole posts, and featured them on many games, but he was by no means the inventor of it as far as I know.
Grant Goodes
Stern: Meteor, Nineball, Seawitch, Lightning, Cheetah
Bally: Fathom x 2, Centaur
Gottlieb: Black Hole
Wanted: Catacomb, Solar Fire, Balls-a-Poppin Seawitch backglass
Lust-worthy: Funhouse, Skateball, Capersville

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My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby Peterjip » Sun Sep 10, 2017 3:57 pm

My flippers start to stick in future pinball games after 1 minute of play. I am using a tankstick. Does anyone know a workaround? Thanks.

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Re: My Obsession with Pinball Designer Steve Kirk

Postby semicolin » Sun Sep 10, 2017 5:09 pm

Peterjip wrote:My flippers start to stick in future pinball games after 1 minute of play. I am using a tankstick. Does anyone know a workaround? Thanks.


Peter, if you start a thread over in the pinball tech area here viewforum.php?f=22 you'll likely have more responses.
Sharing my space with: Stern Meteor, Gottlieb Tag Team, Interflip Dragon, Street Fighter cab w/Premium 8
Wanted: Widebody cocktail cabinet, ≥ 36", Bally Elektra, Williams Rollergames, Bally Centaur



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